Iraqi troops were enforcing positions along the border with Turkey, officials said Friday, to prevent Turkish forces from advancing deeper into Iraqi territory after two weeks of airstrikes as Ankara continues to target Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.
Security officials said Ankara has established at least a dozen posts inside Iraqi territory as part of a military campaign to rout members of the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK, who Turkey says have safe havens in northern Iraq. The airborne-and-land campaign, dubbed “Operation Claw-Tiger,'' began June 17 when Turkey airlifted troops into northern Iraq.
Since then, at least six Iraqi civilians have been killed as Turkish jets pound PKK targets, and several villages in Iraq's northern Kurdish region have been evacuated.
The invading Turkish troops set up posts in the Zakho district in northern province of Dohuk, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) inside Iraqi territory, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the military operations.
Zerevan Musa, mayor of Darkar, said there were five Turkish posts close to his town, including two on the nearby Mt. Khankiri. He said Turkish airstrikes have hit Sharanish and Banka villages in the area.
“We demand from both sides, the Turkish government and the PKK, to keep their fight away from us,'' said Qadir Sharanshi, a resident from Sharanshi village. He said his village has been hit several times.
Iraqi border guards erected two posts along the Khankiri range, said Brig. Delir Zebari, commander of the First Brigade of the Iraqi Border Guards, tasked with securing a 245-kilometer (153-mile) stretch of border territory.
Speaking from the brigade base, he told The Associated Press that his troops' task is to “eliminate attacks on civilians in the area.”
Turkey regularly carries out air and ground attacks against the PKK in northern Iraq. It says neither the Iraqi government nor the regional Iraqi Kurdish administration have taken measures to combat the group. The recent incursion into Iraqi territory has drawn condemnation from Baghdad, which has summoned Ankara's ambassador to Iraq twice since the campaign was launched.
Turkey maintains that until the Iraqi government take actions against the PKK, it will continue to target the Kurdish group, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union for its decades-long insurgency within Turkey.
Turkey's latest campaign poses a dilemma for the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, which relies on Turkey for oil exports through a pipeline running from Iraq's Kirkuk province to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
Kaiwan Kawa, a 30-year-old store owner displaced with his family from the area, said a Turkish airstrike last month struck his mini market in the village of Kuna Masi in Sulaymaniyah province. The airstrike targeted a pickup truck with PKK members who had stopped by his store to buy some eggs. At least one of the fighters was killed, his body torn to pieces, Kawa said.
Kawa's wife, Payman Talib, 31, lost a leg in the bombing while their 6-year-old son, Hezhwan, had shrapnel wounds to the head. Doctors say it's too dangerous to remove the shrapnel.
Kawa said he had opened the shop just a month before. Now he can never go back.
“I will always carry the fear in my heart,'' he said. “It will never be the same.''